The Joy of Being Hopeful

We are still in the Easter Season and the Gospel readings for daily Mass recount Jesus’ appearance and conversation with the disciples after his resurrection. The account that is most compelling for me is Luke’s Gospel (24:35-48), proclaimed on the Third Sunday of Easter, in which Jesus says to them, “’Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.”

When we think about death or experience the loss of someone we love, I am sure that all of us have different thoughts about what life after death is like. Is the resurrection a metaphor for just some biological change that happens – the stuff of our bodies deteriorates and the energy within us becomes a part of some universal energy that we like to call “God?” Did Jesus really eat with the disciples after his resurrection; he was not a “ghost,” and yet he would not need food for sustenance? Is the account literal or symbolic, or did Jesus eat before them to prove that he was present to them in body and spirit? There is much theological conversation about the interpretation of this Gospel account, but for me, it provides certain hope that life after death will be rich and full, as dimensional and dynamic as our current experience, but without the worries and fears that plague us. That gives me “hope,” and the strength to manage through the rough times, the uncertainties, and let go of the things I sometimes try to control consciously or unconsciously.

Our school community has experienced untimely and tragic loss twice this school year with the passing of Anthony Penna ’19 and Mark Dombroski ’17. So many emotions and feelings, questions and doubts, acts of kindness and compassion, examples of faith and love have been a part of these days at Archmere. Thank you to all the members of the Archmere community for “being there” for our students, our families, and for each other.

Some years ago, a good friend of mine who eventually passed away from brain cancer, gave me the “Serenity Prayer” when I was going through a career transition that was challenging. My career challenges did not nearly compare to her physical challenges, I am embarrassed to say. But she lived the first four lines of the prayer so well, that the words, written on a small hanging scroll that I kept on my desk, became very real and meaningful to me. I found the prayer to be a helpful reminder of my limitations, the vastness of creation, and the discernment I was to go through to know what God was calling me to do with my life.

In a few weeks, our seniors will graduate, and now they are making important college decisions. The Class of 2022 is ready to begin the Archmere journey starting with orientation in May. My prayer for these students in transition, as well as all of our students and graduates making decisions and going through transitions, is that they know the joy of being hopeful, because of their faith in God and in God’s loving plan for them – a plan that includes the Easter message of resurrection and new life. My hope is that this Easter Season has brought you peace, renewal of spirit, and many opportunities to relax and enjoy precious time with family and friends!

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

Autumn Prayer

It has been summer-like weather for quite a few days this autumn, until recently, when the chill in the air and the wind scattering the fallen leaves have signaled that the seasons are changing. Summer is giving way to a time when nature sheds many of its blooms, only to return with the longer, warmer days of Spring. This life cycle is a hopeful reminder to us about renewal and new life, as our school community mourns the loss of Anthony Penna ’19 and gratefully welcomes the return to school of Gabrielle ’20, his sister. Never has Archmere felt more united as a community of faith as we did in the hours, days, and weeks after the tragic accident that occurred on the morning of September 29th. Administrators, students, and parents of many other area schools were in contact with us at Archmere and with the Penna Family, offering messages of support and prayers, cards and flowers. We are truly grateful to all who have supported the Penna Family and our students and members of our school community.

We continue to have faith in God and the promise of everlasting life made real by the resurrection of Jesus. We pray in the weeks, months, and years ahead for the wisdom and strength to manage our many challenges that may be a part of our journey.

At a recent meeting that I attended, we prayed the following “Autumn Prayer” by Peter Jarret, C.S.C. I share in the same spirit of community that continues to unify and shape us.

God of all creation, you give us the gift of seasons to mark our journey through time.

The season of autumn, with its changes of colors and falling leaves reminds us that sometimes things must die and fall away for new life to arise.

Such is the message of the cross –

That through death to self we find life in all its richness.

In those moments when we experience setbacks or failures,

Help us to remember that you are with us always,

And that there is no failure or sin your love cannot heal.

Help us to trust in you and in your promise of new life.

 Amen.

Giving Thanks For Our Community

UnknownOne of the five core values we talk about is Community. It is a part of our mission statement, written on the walls of our classrooms, included in our website and in printed literature about Archmere. It is a word that so many institutions use to describe the family-like atmosphere that they believe they create for the people associated with a particular school, church, organization or cause. But at Archmere during the week of November 6, I experienced Community “in action,” and I could not help but share with you how I felt at each event.

On November 3, the Archmere Academy community learned of the passing of Jerry Ambrogi ’76, a much beloved coach and mentor at Archmere for over four decades. An estimated 600 people gathered at Archmere on Tuesday, November 8 for his funeral Mass in the Theatre, followed by a luncheon reception in the Patio. Hundreds more visited at the funeral home the evening before. After a two-year, brave and painful bout with cancer, Jerry is at peace. Over the years, he has been a significant benefactor to Archmere, quietly helping students with words of guidance, financial support, and a sincere mentorship that positively affected the lives of others. In talking with one mother who attended the funeral Mass, she said that Jerry was the only person that was able to talk to her son at a time when he needed support at Archmere, and she will never forget how that mentorship changed her son’s life. In gathering with family and friends, in celebrating the Mass, and in sharing our individual stories of Jerry, I felt the tremendous impact of the intersections of our lives, creating a powerful sense of Community.

A few days later, on Friday, November 11, we held an assembly for the students to observe Veterans Day. As part of that assembly, students from the War Heroes Club, working with Principal John Jordan ’80, researched the World War II career of one of our students, Richard Fox Grace, who left Archmere in his junior year in 1943 to join the Navy. In May 1945, his submarine was torpedoed in what was then the Bay of Siam, and all the crew perished. The submarine was discovered in 2006, and the location in the Bay of Thailand was designated a war grave by the U.S. Navy. Richard, who was a few weeks shy of his 19th birthday, had a nephew, Richard Grace Armstrong ‘69, and his son, Richard Kyle Armstrong ’02 attend Archmere. They were present at the assembly to receive their uncle’s diploma posthumously from Archmere, which was dated June 9, 1944, the day he would have graduated with his class. After his nephews received the diploma, Richard ’69 read a letter he had composed to his uncle. At the conclusion of the letter, the students gave Richard a standing ovation. A color guard from the U.S. Navy joined us, and our own Mastersingers sang the National Anthem and the Navy Hymn. The assembly concluded with the scrolling of the names of those men and women who served or are serving in the armed forces. Needless to say, this special program was an emotional moment for the Archmere community, a moment that acknowledged officially Richard Fox Grace as a graduate of the Class of 1944, a war hero, and a role model who left the Archmere campus 73 years ago to defend our country and our freedoms.

The next evening, I was sitting in the same Theatre where Jerry’s funeral Mass took place and the Veterans Day ceremony occurred to watch the closing performance of “A Christmas Carol,” presented by our drama students. It was a wonderfully unique interpretation of the traditional story, in that all of the characters signed throughout the play. I learned that all of the student actors were taught sign language, which they incorporated beautifully into their acting. It added another dimension to the play, in that Ebenezer Scrooge was taught a “new language” as he transformed throughout the drama. The key words of this new language were: family, friends, love, gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion. Gradually, as each ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future presented themselves to Scrooge, he was able to sign the words and speak a new language.

What is Community at Archmere? It is those three actions: a funeral for a dearly loved and highly regarded alumnus and coach; a respectful student assembly that remembered one graduate who left Archmere 73 years ago, and in remembering one who served, honored all who served or are serving our country in the armed forces; and a fall play that presented a deeper understanding of “Christmas spirit,” that is a recipe of family, friends, love, gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion.

Often times we do not know why things happen. It is exactly in those times that we give thanks to God for being a Community of faith, one that recalls the words from the Book of Isaiah 55:9, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We learn to accept those things we cannot change by gathering together, by relying on each other, and by knowing that someone is there to mourn with you, to remember with you, and to offer you kindness and compassion.

I told a group of students after the events of last week that if there is one thing they should remember, it is that, “We, the Archmere community, will never forget you. You are forever a part of Archmere, and Archmere is forever a part of you.” As we celebrate Thanksgiving and begin preparations for the Christmas holidays, I extend to you my thanks and gratitude for each of you, who are an important and vital part of the Archmere community. May we be grateful for God’s blessings!